Simple steps to improving your leadership

Can you remember your worst boss? Did their micromanagement make your life a misery? Or was it their lack of respect that pushed you over the edge?

In a recent blog post, recruitment firm Cpl considers what makes a bad boss. Micromanagement, not backing up their team, too much ego and unrealistic demands were all cited as red flags. “As many companies strive to improve diversity and company culture, there are still bosses out there that drive their employees to quit,” Cpl’s post notes.

As you embark on a new year and set your goals for the year ahead, make time to think about the type of leader you want to be in 2019 and beyond.

What makes a good leader?

If you asked 100 people to name the single biggest factor in good leadership, you’d likely hear wildly varying answers. It’s a much-discussed topic, which draws a wide variety of views.

In a video on its website, the Institute of Directors of Ireland shares the views of its members on what constitutes good leadership. Optimism, self-awareness, vision, authenticity, strong communication skills, adaptability and strategic clarity are among the attributes mentioned.

A good starting point, for sure.

Leadership style

But do certain factors, such as gender for example, also play a role in shaping a person’s leadership style?

In a 2013 interview with the Harvard Business Review, former Irish president Mary Robinson was asked if women lead differently to men. Robinson said it wasn’t “black and white”, but that women “tend to be problem solvers and lead in a more participatory way”.

And good leadership is not static. It evolves; it must.

According to Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, the “ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have”. Virgin’s Richard Branson believes that poor leadership “tends to be static, much more about protecting the status quo and resting on laurels”.

Ask the right questions

For those trying to become better leaders, it can be hard to know exactly what approach to take when there’s so much information to digest. In her Ted Talk on what makes good leaders, Roselinde Torres, a senior partner at The Boston Consulting Group, says that leadership in “the 21st century is defined and evidenced by three questions”:

  • “Where are you looking to anticipate the next change to your business model or your life?”
  • “What is the diversity measure of your personal and professional stakeholder network?”
  • “Are you courageous enough to abandon a practice that has made you successful in the past?”

“Great leaders dare to be different,” Torres adds. “They don’t just talk about risk-taking; they actually do it.”

What do employees want?

When it comes to asking questions about your leadership style, perhaps the most logical place to start is to ask the people you lead.

“Traditionally, being a leader has been about being directive and telling people what to do,” writes Tanya Sheehan, a business psychologist and an Irish Management Institute (IMI) associate in a recent post on the IMI website. But she suggests that it could be better to take more of a coaching approach.

“Being a coach is more about asking the right questions, providing specific feedback, helping employees make a connection to others who can help them and empowering employees to discover solutions themselves,” Sheehan continues.

Technology giant Google also recognises that being a good coach is key to good leadership. In 2008, Google began Project Oxygen, a research project to identify what makes a good manager. Over the past decade, the company has developed a list of behaviours that good managers display. These include being a good coach, empowering their team, creating an inclusive environment, communicating effectively and so on.

Not only has Google identified what it sees as good management traits, it has also adapted its management training to help its leaders develop these skills.

Simple steps

Not every organisation has the same resources as the internet giant, but taking simple steps can improve your leadership skills. Start by asking questions. Ask your team for feedback. Ask them what they’d like to change and ask them how you could work together to build a better work environment.

Good leaders are not afraid to show weakness and are willing to admit their mistakes – and learn from them. By showing your team that you are prepared to adapt your leadership approach where necessary, you will help to create an environment where your team feels they too can experiment a little and learn new skills along the way.

As well as asking your team for feedback on your leadership, take the time to understand their goals and what motivates them. Are they learning enough? Do they feel they have the right skills to do their job and, if not, how can you help them? Do they feel their work is appreciated? Do they enjoy their job?

Asking questions is a great start and a great way to frame your focus for 2019. But don’t stop there. Take the next step and change your behaviour. Good leaders listen, but better leaders act on what they are told.

If you’re a leader and you’d like to become a better communicator, consider one-to-one executive public speaking coaching with Broadly Speaking. We work with the top executives in some of the world’s largest and most highly respected companies. Team-building sessions are also available for groups. Contact or ring Mags on +353 87 207 0495.